Monday, November 24, 2008

POV and Voice

This should tell you how little engrossed I am with the other Ember sequels: I went to the library and got Rick Riordan's The Battle of the Labyrinth and am 100 pages into it instead of finishing off The Prophet of Yonwood first. I plan to finish....just not until I read something more exciting first.

But while I was reading this book, I couldn't help but remember that other book by Riordan I'm reading, The Maze of Bones. And that got me to thinking about how they're different.

The Percy Jackson series is in first person POV, and The Maze of Bones is in third person limited POV, alternating chapters between the brother and sister (and an occasional blip of 3rd omniscient).

I've blogged several times before about how amazing Riordan's voice is in the Percy Jackson series. It was the first thing I noticed in the series, and the thing that kept me hooked. With The Maze of Bones, there is less of a unique voice, and that led me to wonder whether or not it was because of the POV.

How powerful is POV in voice? Certainly some of the best examples of voice are from a first person POV: The Catcher in the Rye, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Love that Dog. And their voices are unique, which lends that indefinable "voice" to the entire work, making the book stand out. However, some of the best books are also in third person: Harry Potter, The Hero and the Crown, The City of Ember. So how much impact does POV have on voice?

First Person POV and Voice: The voice is clear so long as the narrator is unique. We see the world through the narrator's filter, and therefore the book is made unique by the experience through the narrator. For example, think of The Adoration of Jenna Fox: the world is unique because we see it through Jenna's broken world. The plot, built in part around the mystery of Jenna's past, would be lost in a 3rd person omniscient voice. It would be possible in a 3rd person limited POV, but the angst of Jenna's internal struggle would not be evident.

Third Person POV and Voice: The voice must exist outside of the main character; by necessity, the voice exudes from the narrator who is not the main character. That does not mean, however, that the narrator has no personality. The key here is to imbue personality within the narration--think of the subtle comedy in the asides in the Harry Potter books.

The difference? There isn't one. Either way you go about it, you've got to make the narrator unique. Whether the narrator is the main character or an unnamed narrator, the key is to make that narrator unique.

For further reading:
Nathan Bransford on POV
The Buried Editor on POV
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